I'd be interested in you developing that story!
Okay, well, in summary, look into an off lease Dell PowerEdge 2950 or 2970 (or newer) server platform as your workstation. These are roughly the same platform. One uses Intel processor(s) and the other AMD. There are other server boxes that would do but prices in this category climb quickly.
The upside is that the 2950/70 series are inexpensive, compared to new, and offer great performance. The downside is that they can be tad noisy. This platform is a hugely popular model among enterprise class servers.
The 2950/70 is is built for high volume performance and is capable of supporting up to an office full of workstations doing all the things that workstations do. They are obnoxiously reliable. With a little shopping, they can be purchased off-lease for between 1 and 2 kilobucks, give or take for features.
The 2950/70 has been superseded starting about a year ago by the Dell PowerEdge R series.
The 2950/70 series platform can house up to 6 or 8 internal SATA, SAS or SSD drives; can accommodate multiple RAID drive arrays. They accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM. You can get all the specs at Dellís web site. They can run nearly any current generation Windows and some other OSes.
Server platforms are optimized for sustained high volume I/O. The 2950/70 uses the Dellís Perc 5/i or 6/i RAID controller for drive I/O and any of a variety of GB or > network cards.
The platform can have up to 2 Intel Xeon (or AMD) processors with up to 4 cores for each processor.
A couple of tests to illustrate performance using Photoshop CS5 and some panos with a 2950 that has 24 GB of RAM and 2 RAID 5 SATA based drive arrays (6 drives). This is not close to ideal for performance, but great for fail-over survivability.
A pano that is a 1.8 GB .tif file loaded in about 36 seconds, including the time to open Photoshop.
If I close (not save) the file above and do a re-open - for an almost 100% cache hit - the same file will open in a little under 6 seconds.
The server saves this file in about 43 seconds.
Another file that is about 1.6 GB in size is similar in performance. Original open time was about 22 seconds, with Photoshop already running. The file saves in about 29 seconds. This is fairly typical performance with between 1 and 6 panos of this size open at the same time. As long as there is available RAM the performance doesnít perceptibly slow.
Even better than using a different RAID level, using the current generation of SSD drives would probably reduce the time by about up to half, and also eliminate all the noise related to spindle drives.
You donít need to run a server OS on these, but wonít hurt yourself by doing so.
Of course, you can buy a lot more power than what I posted above. Some server platforms intended for data centers are positively breath taking in their performance. Those start at about $30K and go up quickly from there. You get what you pay for and the 2950/70 platform is pretty good, and about half the cost of a current generation new workstation.
There you have it, blazing performance, inexpensive yet reliable hardware.
Iíve been using a 2950 for PS and related tasks for about the last year and have yet to have time to get a cup of coffee while waiting for anything related to Photoshop.
Lastly, i use this box by way of RDP (also known as remote desktop). By doing so i significantly extended the life of my current desktop machine, and also made it possible to have access to my photoshop computer and files, from anywhere there is internet access.